Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) reduces the size of the forepaw representation in forepaw barrel subfield (FBS) cortex in neonatal rats: Relationship between periphery and central representation
Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) alters limb development that may lead to structural and functional abnormalities of the limb reported in children diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. To determine whether PAE alters the central representation of the forelimb we used the rodent barrel cortex as our model system where it was possible to visualize and quantitatively measure the size of the forepaw representation in the forepaw barrel subfield (FBS) in first somatosensory cortex. In the present study, we examined the effects of PAE on pattern and size of the forepaw and forepaw representation in FBS in neonatal rats at gestational day 32 that corresponds to postnatal day 9. Pregnant Sprague-Dawley rats were chronically intubated with binge doses of ethanol (6 g/kg) from gestational day 1 through gestational day 20. The offspring of the ethanol treated dams comprised the ethanol (EtOH) group. The effect of PAE on the EtOH group was compared with a nutritional-controlled pairfed (PF) group and a normal chowfed (CF) group. The ventral (glabrous) surface area of the forepaw digits, length of digit 2 through digit 5, and the corresponding glabrous forepaw digit representations in the FBS were measured and compared between treatment groups. In rats exposed to in utero alcohol, the sizes of the overall glabrous forepaw and forepaw digits were significantly reduced in EtOH pups compared to CF and PF pups; overall glabrous forepaw area was 11% smaller than CF controls. Glabrous digit lengths were also smaller in EtOH rats compared to CF controls and significantly smaller in digit 2 through digit 4. The glabrous digit representation in FBS was 18% smaller in the EtOH group when compared to the CF treatment. However, PAE did not produce malformations in the forepaw or alter the pattern of the forepaw representation in FBS; instead, PAE significantly reduced both body and brain weights compared to controls. Unexpectedly, little or no correlation was observed between the size of the glabrous forepaw compared to the size of the glabrous forepaw representation in the FBS for any of the treatment groups. The present findings of PAE-related alterations in sensory periphery and the central cortical representation may underlie deficits in sensorimotor integration reported among children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
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